Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Friday Buzzkills: Hope (and remakes) spring eternal

Like the azalea beginning its cautious bloom out of the cold, gray winter’s ground, America is showing early signs of spring renewal, a budding optimism driven by the first concrete plans to stop the downward spiral of economic woes and wartime despair and remake ourselves into the socialist paradise we’ve all been dreaming about since last November. Sure, your job is still on the line, your bank might become the property of the U.S. government—or worse, folded into one of our last remaining profitable corporations, in which case don’t be surprised to see your paychecks dispersed in the form of Amazon gift-cards come May—and right now our neighbor Mexico is in danger of collapsing into a lawless, drug-cartel-run free-for-all that might put a slight crimp in your “spring break in Tijuana” plans. Even worse, some people are saying that Watchmen might actually kind of suck. But, ah, at least the weather is warming slightly? And really, who are we to go pointing out that all those pretty spring flowers are grown in pots of bullshit? Oh… right.

- Anyway, it’s hard to be pessimists in a week that’s all about feel-good, rags-to-riches stories—particularly ones that are realized thanks to intense media scrutiny and international pressure, like the Hollywood ending granted (for now) to the young kids from Best Picture, We Guess winner Slumdog Millionaire. After a whirlwind week that saw them redlining the Seacrest-Bot’s language processors and empathy banks, the film’s adorable Poverty Patch Kids realized every Indian child’s dream by frolicking along the Santa Monica Pier and getting a firsthand look at where all those High School Musical bedsheets they made end up. (Just kidding; everybody knows the good sweatshop gigs are in China.) Then it was back to the motherland, where they received a heroes’ welcome—which meant they were so overwhelmed by media attention that young Azharuddin Ismail burst into tears over his unfinished plate of biryani—before returning to their respective homes: “a plastic sheet in a shantytown beside a railway track, where the smell of urine and cow dung lingers in the air” for Ismail, and “a tiny shack beside an open drain” for Rubina Ali. But wait! This story has a happy, liberal-guilt-induced ending: Since there’s an election coming up and the whole world is suddenly watching its every move Since these kids are “national heroes,” the government has volunteered to give them houses. So now nobody’s been “exploited” because here, money. Everybody can safely look away now.


- Speaking of India and looking away, the Oscars were obviously a big deal for Mumbai, and the ceremony would have been the sort of life-affirming triumph that the whole nation could get behind—but then Milk screenwriter Dustin Lance Black had to gay it up with his sincere, heartbreaking, totally gay acceptance speech about being totally gay. Thanks, Black! Don’t you know that inspiring messages about escaping the confines placed on you by unfair class struggles beyond your control are only welcome when they involve cute kids breaking free of the slums, not when they involve you gay-loving your fellow gay dudes? Um, hello: Homosexuality is illegal in India, therefore it officially doesn’t even exist. What were you thinking? Luckily India’s censors were all over it when the awards were rebroadcast, so they could excise all of your eloquent pleas for tolerance and brotherhood and cut right to the musical numbers. Jai ho!

- Anyway, dream on, Dustin Lance Black. The kind of universal acceptance you’re hoping for will surely never happen in this lifetime, because it says right in the holy scriptures that penises go in vaginas, and then only when they’ve been sanctified by a blessed union before God—or when they’ve been paid millions of dollars to do so on camera, like the porn philanthropists of Vivid Entertainment would like to do for Nadya “Octomom” Suleman. The world’s most altruistic cum-shot peddlers recently offered Mommy Densest $1 million to participate in a video where she has sex with eight different men in eight different scenes, because as CEO Stephen Hirsch puts it, “The number eight is obviously heavily associated with her.” (As is being an exemplar for reckless endangerment of children, but then nobody’s probably going to pay to see Welfare Sluts Bust Dangerously Irresponsible Nuts.)

But before you go writing this off as pure exploitation, Hirsch says he’s just trying to help: “She’s struggling financially and this is a woman who wants to provide for her kids”—and live in a $1 million house, according to Cindy Adams. “This way she can hold her head high and not be using taxpayers money to support her family." Finally, a way to escape the awful indignity of state-subsidization, and all she has to do is film herself having sex with eight strangers. And hey, she even gets to be involved in the “plot line and packaging”! Unfortunately for all of you with a “desperate for attention” fetish, Suleman has turned down the offer—for now—telling Radaronline.com, “Who wants to see me naked? Maybe in a year when the baby fat goes away.” Relax, she’s joking: “Seriously, though, my mum didn't bring me up like that. Besides, what will my 14 kids think when they grow up?” (Uh… “Holy shit, I’m starving”?)

- Toot toot! All aboard the segue train: Boy, the way the media has dug its claws into Suleman, it’s like the scandal that just won’t die. You could almost say it’s a never-ending story—hey, kind of like the beloved children’s movie that producers are getting ready to CGI the fuck up for a “modern spin” recently put into fast-track at Warner Bros. The story of young autistic boy trapped inside his hellish imagination by a giant talking spermdog and aided by an Orange County metalcore band in his quest to make reading fun-damental or something has already been spun off into two sequels and inspired a hundred awkward moments on the dance floor, thanks to ironic DJs who think they’re hilarious for downloading its theme song. Now a whole new generation will get to experience it, and thrill to the tale of a magical world that’s rapidly disappearing because of a lack of imagination—and it's all thanks to a remake. Oh, the ironing is delicious.

- Still, there’s probably no real harm in going back and smoothing out all the various blue-screen kinks and awkward dubbing of the original; after all, The Never-Ending Story was one fluke hit that actually could have benefited from a little studio polish. But is there really a compelling reason to remake Total Recall, a film that already got the big-budget treatment the first time around, less than 20 years ago? [Insert your own joke about memory-wipes here.] Producer Neal H. Moritz and his ironically named Original Films banner are currently negotiating with Columbia to produce a “contemporary” version of the Schwarzenegger-starring Philip K. Dick adaptation that was already set in the near-future to begin with—although this one will feature “state-of-the-art visual effects to tell the story in a fresh way.” Hey, you know what would be an especially fresh way to tell a story? Finding one of the millions of them that haven’t already been done, rather than riffling through the studio library every time Houdini releases an update.

- We’re beginning to suspect that remakes of films that are barely two decades old isn’t necessarily endemic of a lack of innovative scripts, though. Maybe it’s just part and parcel of that inevitable ’90s revival that’s just around the corner—which would actually be great news for people like Lou Diamond Phillips, who no doubt looks back on the turn of that particular decade with great nostalgia, before wondering why he let his agent talk him into squandering his Young Guns buzz on shit like The First Power and Shadow Of The Wolf. Back when he was still picking up rave reviews for Stand And Deliver and La Bamba, Phillips probably never thought 2008 would see him agreeing to star in a Sci Fi Channel spin-off like Stargate: Universe, which probably isn’t going to help that franchise’s “poor man’s Battlestar Galactica” criticisms any. Phillips’ casting comes the same week that deodorant pitchman and facilitator of knock-you-out-related requests LL Cool J signed on to star in a spin-off of NCIS (ask your dad) as a “tough but charming former Navy SEAL who is an expert on the Middle East,” part of a dream team that includes Chris “Die, Joel Schumacher, Die” O’Donnell as, in the words of Entertainment Weekly’s Michael Ausiello, a “human Transformer who can change personas as easily as you or I change clothes.” (How did Ausiello know I only wear beige, shapeless sacks?)


- But hey, work is work, and Phillips, Cool J et al. are no doubt happy to still be getting parts at all, as opposed to being reduced to crying to Scott Baio or shilling for Cash4Gold. Unfortunately, in an economy when our retired senior citizens are forced to reenter the workplace just to pay for their medications and NCIS DVDs, even people who should rightfully be lounging poolside while being waited on by a bevy of wannabe actresses who are too stupid to realize that Star Search was cancelled over a decade ago like Ed McMahon are forced to suck it up and trade their Fame4EasyPaychecks. Saddest of all, McMahon is more than likely burning through whatever extra scratch he picked up making those infamous commercials as we speak, as his spokesperson finally got around to telling the public that the former Tonight Show sidekick has been in the hospital for three weeks with pneumonia. Doctors say he is currently in serious condition, although his family is optimistic. And why shouldn’t they be? After all he’s been through in the past year—nearly losing his home, suffering from cancer, breaking his neck, being forced to rap for his supper—damned if he isn’t due for a turn in his luck. Seriously, where’s Fate with Ed’s giant check already?

- Howard Zieff got his start as a bigwig in the New York advertising world of the 1960s, living what Variety calls a “Mad Men existence” thanks to his standout work on some of the most famous commercials of all time. Among his classic ads: The “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish” campaign for Levy’s Bread; commercials for Benson And Hedges cigarettes; Volkswagen’s “Funeral;” and “That’s a spicy meatball” for Alka-Seltzer, still one of the most famous commercials ever made. He got into film directing, beginning with 1973’s Slither starring James Caan and Peter Boyle, and peaking with his biggest hit, 1980’s Private Benjamin, a box-office success that also garnered two Oscar nominations for Goldie Hawn and Eileen Brennan. Later Zieff films included the Dudley Moore comedy Unfaithfully Yours and (Buzzkills favorite) The Dream Team, followed by My Girl and its 1994 sequel, after which Zieff officially retired. The “Fellini of television commercials” spent the last nine years affected by Parkinson’s Disease; he died this week at 81.

- Though he arrived late and left early, bassist Kelly Groucutt was an indispensable part of Electric Light Orchestra during its heyday, grounding Jeff Lynne and Roy Wood’s symphonic flights of fancy and helping them to develop the accessible sound that saw them scoring dozens of hit singles and going double-platinum with 1977’s Out Of The Blue. More than just a backup player, Groucutt was a fan favorite known for his rapport with live audiences, and even took lead vocal duties on songs like “Nightrider” and “Sweet Is The Night” in concert. Groucutt left during the Secret Messages recording sessions, unhappy with his royalty payments; a suit he brought against Lynne was eventually settled out of court. He later released a solo album and played in numerous ELO spin-off groups like ELO Part II and The Orchestra. Groucutt died of a heart attack this week at the age of 63.

- As the guitarist for late-’70s/early-’80s Athens group Pylon, Randy Bewley brought the minimalist, discordant, danceable guitar stabs of English post-punk groups like Gang Of Four to the American South, and in doing so, influenced tons of bands—not least his contemporaries R.E.M, whom once called Pylon “the best band in America” in a Rolling Stone interview. Bewley died of a heart attack this week at the age of 53; there’s a very detailed, personal, and heartfelt eulogy for him over at Idolator that pays better tribute to him than we ever could, but suffice to say Bewley’s contributions to music over the last 20 years cannot be overstated. He will be missed.

Have a super weekend!

[Note: Thanks to pressing SXSW-related duties (as well as a general need to step away and recharge for a little bit), Friday Buzzkills is taking a hiatus for the month of March. We’ll be back in April, surely with plenty to talk about. Sowwy.]